June 7, 2021

As early as June 21, Oregon could meet a key vaccination target set by Gov. Kate Brown that would lift most health and business restrictions. By then, 70 percent of Oregonians 18 and older will likely have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Oregon Health Authority announced Friday. 

Gov. Kate Brown said Friday that when the state reaches that threshold, Oregon will “fully reopen”, allowing businesses and entertainment venues to operate at full capacity, dropping state mandates for masks and physical distancing in most public places, and requiring schools to return fully to in-person learning next fall.

Some health and safety precautions will remain in place because of the number of people still unvaccinated, as well as federal requirements.

Multnomah County health officials will continue to recommend people continue to take precautions to keep themselves and their communities safe, even after the Governor lifts statewide restrictions.

“If you are not vaccinated, you should continue to wear a mask indoors. Vaccination offers much more protection, but if you’re not ready, keep masking,” said Interim Health Department Director Ebony Clarke. “We have succeeded in blunting the risk to hospital systems, but the 70-percent target conceals pockets of vulnerability. The rapid shift away from statewide health precautions risks leaving some communities at greater risk.”

Statewide cases are falling and fewer people are becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, but that’s not a trend shared equally across communities because of inadequate access to testing and vaccination. The Health Officers in the Tri-County region last week issued an alert to clinicians that some people are still at much greater risk of disease and death. Specifically, data shows that Black and African Americans of all ages are increasingly likely to become seriously ill with the virus.

“It appears that we—governments, health systems—have not made sure Black and African Americans have had equal access to easy testing and have not been able to get vaccinated easily or quickly. We have not done the level of outreach we should, given chronic conditions are higher because of generations of racism and discrimination.”

The County is working in partnership with nonprofits, community leaders and faith communities to hold workshops, forums and to stand up testing sites and vaccine clinics in community spaces focused on meeting the needs for Black, African American and other people of color and immigrant and refugee communities.  

The County’s Community Health Center primary clinics have reached out individually to those patients at greater risk to talk about vaccination options, prioritizing outreach to patients of color.  

“Even as overall community vaccine rates approach 70 percent, we know that communities of color continue to shoulder a greater disease burden due to historical inequities and still have less access to vaccines,” said Community Health Centers Executive Director Tasha Wheatt-Delancy. “This is why at our Health Center we continue to focus on whole person health, making sure we address underlying conditions while exploring together options and concerns related to vaccines. We are here to provide affordable care for anyone who needs it.”

Multnomah County Public Health officials will continue to monitor inequities in rates of disease, and vaccination, hospitalization trends and disease forecasting for the fall. 

“We share the urgency and excitement about a return to normal. But even at that 70 percent threshold, COVID-19 is not ‘over,’ said Multnomah County Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey. “We may be moving out of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we have a long way to go on the pandemic of racism.”